All of the readings this morning are focused on law. As we hear in Deuteronomy (CH 4), Moses received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai as a way to live in the land that God was giving to his people. In giving the laws Moses instructed the people to “observe them carefully, for thus you will give evidence of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations…” He also warned the people, “Take care and be earnestly on your guard not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live, but teach them to your children and to your children’s children.” It seems then that the laws were not laid on people as a burden but as a guide to right and wise living and were made more intelligible if people looked at them in the light of their own experience. When I think of the Ten Commandments (which is admittedly only part of the Mosaic Law), I usually consider them as rather negative but if I look at them in terms of the culture of the time and fold in these words of Moses this morning, I see that perhaps, after the imperatives of the first three positive statements of how the Hebrews were to relate to God, the proscriptive 4th through 10th commandments were simpler to grasp for a people used to slavery and self-preservation as a way to survive. A new way to think about the Commandments, to be sure.
In the gospel today we find another reference to that Law. Jesus grew up reflecting on and living by it and it’s instructive that he said, “I have not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it.” By the time he arrived on earth, there had been some progress in the way the covenant with God was understood by the Hebrews. The statement from Matthew just quoted is part of the great Sermon on the Mount where Jesus lays out eight statements on how to become holy (“Blessed are…”). It seems then that the way to live a wise and intelligent life could be learned by reflection on the meaning of both sets of laws seen through the cultural filter of Jesus’ time as well as that of our day.
In our current large and litigious culture we might ask ourselves how we might articulate the law of God for Church and society. What would eliminate the rampant greed and violence and focus us again on the good and compassionate works that lead to holiness?